Editor: In preparation for our upcoming issues of FOCUS Magazine, we asked our friend Paul Verhoef, who is leaving his work with CMDS this season, to send us some information on his time with CMDS and what his plans were. He sent us this beautiful piece. We ended up having to reduce the size of his piece dramatically, but felt that his words had some wisdom and power that everyone should have the chance to read. Thank you, Paul, for sharing your words with us and for your time serving the students at University of Calgary Medical School.
Dear friends of Jesus,
My name is Paul Verhoef. For almost two and a half years, I’ve been serving as the CMDS Associate Staff person for the University of Calgary Medical School. But now my time is finishing; I’m being called away from this work so that I can more deeply invest in my primary work.
For 11 years, I’ve served as a Chaplain at the University of Calgary, supported by the Christian Reformed Church (CRC). And over those 11 years, I have been blessed to be invited in a myriad of ways to support the life of the University. While I work with students and student groups, and organize programs and gatherings, the CRC has always asked me to first and foremost be present with the University itself, to watch the movements, to feel the blowing of the Spirit, and to fan into flame any possibilities that are uniquely available to me as a Chaplain (some campus ministries focus fully on students and programming – certainly to God’s glory; chaplains also tend to think about the University as an institution, about its ‘soul’ and how it might be shaped by God’s presence, love, and wisdom).
And there is a conversation growing at the University of Calgary – a conversation about how the individual and the collective can interact in the public sphere, a conversation around pluralism, multi-culturalism and secular society, a conversation about the varied rootedness of communities and creating an imagination of partnership towards a common good. At my university, strangely perhaps, the questions guiding that conversation are not happening mostly in the classroom, but instead are being asked around the hallways of student services. And my department, the Faith & Spirituality Centre, is the key catalyzer of that pluralism dialogue. So the door for me to participate in the instigation, shaping, and direction of the conversation on pluralism (starting with religious pluralism) is clearly open. And the CRC has said to me, “It’s for such a time as this that we have called you to the University of Calgary.” So for the next year, I will be more intensely focusing on how the University of Calgary might be a hospitable place to many people who bring with them their deeply rooted religious conviction and behaviours. I’ll be going to in reading groups, classrooms, conferences. I’ll be collaboratively creating workshops and student engagement opportunities. That is my call.
You might hear in all of this something parallel to your own work and practice. As Canada has dialogued around abortion, and more recently been discussing euthanasia, the CMDS community itself has been pulled into the conversation. And that conversation has taken place in classrooms, in courtrooms, and many places in between. And so as I step more deeply into a parallel conversation at the University of Calgary, I am thankful that during my time with CMDS, many of these similar questions were percolating, and indeed, even boiling over at times. The posture of CMDS in the midst of that fertile conversation have been a gift for me to observe.
But as I depart, let me mention just a few more things about CMDS Student Ministries that have been a surprising gift. I love how the ministry has such a national, regional, and local flavour. CMDS has a national conference, a national student leadership gathering, a regional retreat, and all sorts of local activity. But all through these levels, students are invited to rub shoulders with Physicians – who hold in them years of experience and practical wisdom, who have lived through some of the questions the students are anticipating or asking.
But it is really the people that make CMDS such a good gift. Wonderful physicians who host meals or mentor students – like David and Andrea Loewen in Calgary. Gifted colleagues around the country doing student ministry with medical students – like Roger and Munjula, Barbara and Yaw, and so many others. And leaders like Larry Worthen, faithful to the task, to the community, and to our God. And it draws students in that are hospitable and prayerful, rooted and wise – and willing to step forward into a future where God is King and where His people are known for their love.
So good to be connected to you, in Christ,